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Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, October 2012

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s new recording of Belarusian composer Alla Borzova’s beatific, exuberant Songs for Lada constitutes a folk music festival all its own. The composer’s intended spectacle of musicians and dancers must provide a thrilling experience in which the infectious energy of music, performers and audience create unforgettable memories. The 35-minute cantata…also works splendidly as a purely audio experience, with its happy array of children’s chorus, girl soprano and folk contralto soloists, dudkas, cimbalom, bagpipe and full symphony orchestra.

…Borzova’s 15-minute To the New World creates a sort of musical dance floor, à la musicals of the 1940s with Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore…Borzova’s captivating blend of folk and Western musics has appealing if self-conscious flair and swing.

In these live recordings of 2009 and 2010 performances, the audiophile sound captures the full range and impact of the Detroit orchestra resurgent under Slatkin. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

James Manheim, September 2012

This release appears in the Naxos label’s American Classics series, but the main attraction, Songs for Lada (the composer’s daughter, not the Soviet car), was composed between 1988 and 1991, before composer Alla Borzova came to the U.S., and mostly while her native Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union. No matter. It’s an appealing piece, based on children’s folklore from Belarus, that has been successfully performed in both the former Soviet Union and the U.S. The texts, written or adapted mostly by the composer herself, have a narrative quality; with spoken or sung adult female vocal solos (one performing in folk style) played off against a children’s choir and an orchestra that includes Russian bagpipes and other ethnic instruments. The composer specifies conventional substitutes for these, but to their credit conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra do not use these, instead unearthing players of the originals, presumably from Michigan’s large Eastern European community. The orchestra gets into the spirit of the work, and there are good immigrant soloists, but the real stars are the members of the unheralded Michigan State University Children’s Choir, most of them presumably singing in an unfamiliar language. They yield nothing to much more famous groups in terms of pitch precision and rhythmic ensemble. The album ends with To the New World, a genuinely American work by Borzova that depicts a group of immigrants (including Irish), each with their own music; the traditions come together at the end in an American melting pot that includes jazz. It’s a simple concept, but an original one, and as with Songs for Lada it’s accessible without being in any way hackneyed or conventional. Anyone who has followed concert music in a major American metropolitan area these days knows just how much of it is accomplished by musicians with roots in the former East Bloc, and with strong engineering in Detroit’s marvelously warm Orchestra Hall, this album offers a fine taste of that scene. © 2012

Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, August 2012

Ladu-Ladu-Ladki…is reminiscent of the opening of Orff’s Catulli Carmina…In the middle there is a beautiful pastoral episode with birdsong that suddenly works a magic spell. Borzova tells us that the soprano solo part was written for a “girl soprano” but the more mature and experienced Russian-American Valentina Fleer gives a convincing imitation of a child without any obvious signs of coyness.

The fourth movement, a lullaby, moves into different territory altogether. This conjures a hypnotic meditation, where various strands of melody drift across the landscape like a pattern of shadows. After about five minutes there comes a beautiful wordless soprano solo. Here the use of a mature voice rather than a “girl soprano” is a positive gain. A cat interrupts the sleeping child—cue for some delightful animal imitations. Then the wordless soprano restores calm and peace together with drifting string counterpoints. This is heavenly music, with some overtones of Arvo Pärt but really like nothing else in the repertory.

The final movement, a hymn to the sun, returns us to the Orff-like motoric rhythms of the opening. The chorus of Lyu-li, lyu-li almost recalls Rimsky-Korsakov’s nature-painting in Sadko and The snow maiden— both based on Russian folk-tales. Borzova rejoices in these links with the past. Her homages to the nineteenth century romantics reflect her period of study with David del Tredici without using the post-Wagnerian orchestral textures of the latter. The music builds to a climax as the warmth of the sun penetrates the atmosphere. At the end the ‘folk contralto’ declaims spoken words over the background of the chorus. It’s almost like a reminiscence of the end of Schoenberg’s Gürrelieder.

After the cantata we are given a purely orchestral work, To the New World. It’s a programmatic piece describing the feelings of immigrants coming to America. There is a rather beautiful theme, first heard on alto flute, which the composer rightly describes as “poignant yet hopeful”. This enfolds a number of episodes depicting the various nationalities of the immigrants. These include some pastoral folk episodes as well as a full-scale swing jazz section. After this the music returns to the opening “immigrant theme” and fades away with some rapping cowbells which, again according to the composer, represent “the passage of time”. It is a readily approachable piece with some lovely passages. One is left with a wish to hear more of Borzova’s non-programmatic music.

Fortunately, as it happens, we may have the opportunity to find out, because Leonard Slatkin has apparently taken a great liking to the composer and has described his pleasure in recording these works. This pleasure is reflected in the excellent performances, well recorded here. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, July 2012

If you enjoy folk-inspired works, including with children’s choirs you cannot fail to welcome this disc which came to me as a great and pleasant surprise.

The main work is brilliantly conceived and wonderfully executed music of real interest which is maintained throughout its length. Based on children’s folk songs, rhymes, games, dances and lullabies it weaves a tapestry of magical proportions using folk instruments and the voice of a soprano and a folk contralto who is known as The Golden Voice of Belarus. Each of its five movements is a joy to listen to with a uniquely fashioned concept. I was fascinated to notice a short passage in the first minute of the first movement that reminded me of Copland’s Old American Songs and I thought that both Copland and Borzova tried to establish a classical music uniquely of their countries. The cycle has in its first movement a representation of birdsong and the final section of the last movement brings us back full circle with a repetition augmented by a recording of real birdsong (as with Rautavaara’s Concerto for Birds and Orchestra). It makes for a charming end to a wonderfully evocative composition.

…the other hand the other work on the disc which is also quite original is centred on the very arrival in the USA of the huge number of immigrants from the world over and seeks extremely successfully to represent many of the hundreds of nationalities involved. Imagining a ship laden with people from all over creates with various leitmotifs a snapshot of many of the ethnic backgrounds on board. From a central all-embracing “immigrant” theme we are presented with snatches of music from various sources, both real (a German melody) and imagined: Ireland, Italy, Latin America, Africa, China and klezmer sounds to represent the millions of Jews who left Europe for America. On the ship’s “arrival” in America we hear strains of jazz from the shore which increase in volume as the ship draws nearer to the docks. Finally there’s a repeat of the “immigration” theme which brings us full circle to the beginning and the thought that America is a true ‘melting pot’ and music amongst so many other things is a big beneficiary of this process. The work’s musical message is profound and worthy and perfectly expressed in its short fourteen minute length.

Alla Borzova is yet another discovery for me but well worth it and her other compositions I shall be exploring with relish. The orchestra, choir and soloists clearly enjoy themselves in this recording and the result is a truly different musical experience deserving of high praise. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review, June 2012

Songs for Lada by Alla Borzova…looks back to the children’s folk songs, rhymes and lullabies of her homeland…The contrasting voices of a soprano and folk contralto bring the songs effectively to life, and Borzova’s use of folk instruments…heightens the identification of the work with Belarus and gives it an exotic flavor. Yet Songs for Lada ultimately strives for a kind of universality in its exploration of childhood themes that cross national boundaries, doing so in part through its use of sounds—such as bird song—that both children and adults will recognize anywhere in the world. Leonard Slatkin leads the work with a firm hand and sensitive understanding, bringing the same characteristics as well to a piece called To the New World (2001-02). This is an instrumental work, in which Borzova again dips into traditional music…both these works have interesting elements and a sound that is unusual in its well-managed blending of musical influences from multiple countries. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2012

Born in Belarus, Alla Borzova arrived in the United States in 1993, and after further studies with David Del Tredici, is now established among American composers. Songs For Lada is an extended theatrical cantata based on Belarusian children’s folklore, songs, games, dances and lullabies, and is rather extravagantly scored for two solo singers, children’s choir, folk instruments and symphony orchestra. It is a mix that creates much joy, though I guess it is a line-up that will also pose problems for public performance. So take this opportunity to hear a very inexpensive disc, the music so delightful and easy on the ear as we pass through the five movements, the fourth—a lullaby—a particularly haunting melody. Completed in 1991, it was written with Borzova’s daughter, Lada, in mind, the two outer movements, Ladu-Ladu-Ladki and Shine, Shine, The Sun! capturing the innocence of childhood. To The New World is a picture of new immigrants arriving in the United States with their mix of musical influences. It offers an eclectic mix that makes for a most attractive score, particularly as you can spend a quarter of an hour in a ‘guess where that came from’ game. Borzova wraps-up the whole score with a degree of modernity until we reach the new world of American jazz, the music fading back to memories of times past for the newcomers. The conductor, Leonard Slatkin, once told me that when he asked his grandmother what his real surname should be, she replied ‘Slatkin, that’s as near as the immigration man could get to our name when he signed our papers, and that’s how we will be known’. You could hardly find anyone more fitting to direct an excellent disc recorded in 2009 and 2010, its emotive soloists mainly from Russia and Belarus. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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